The other morning, I bumped into a friend I don’t see very often. She too is a single mother and self employed, but when we bump into each other, we usually talk about other things. This time though, we ended up talking about how interesting it can be to be a single parent as well as self employed.
I have been working on my year-end accounts lately, and when I came up with my final figure, I was surprised to find that my income for the last tax year was less than a quarter of what I used to make in my old job, pre-breakdown. But I don’t feel poor! I feel happy, and free.
In my old job…
I woke up at 5:30 and went to the gym before work. Then I put on make up and jewelery and heels and went to work in an office. I couldn’t even tell you about the work I did; it involved reconciliation of assets, and it was as boring as it sounds. I made lots of spreadsheets and graphs, and used acronyms like UAT and GUI. Once a week, I and a colleague produced the mother of all spreadsheets, with all manner of graphs and shiny things, which was sent directly to a man named Juan in Madrid who wore a very expensive suit, but probably didn’t read the report as closely as we liked to think.
It’s not that I hated my job; I loved the people I worked with and actually quite enjoyed the whole thing with the graphs and the spreadsheets. But it wasn’t exactly fulfilling work. I wasn’t changing the world, and for all the meetings and spreadsheets and meetings about spreadsheets, when I looked closely, it was like one of those magic eye pictures from the 90s – and I’ve never been able to see those things. When I finally had a breakdown, I remember wandering through the offices of that building, looking at all these people in their smart clothes, staring intently at their screens, and thinking “don’t they realise it’s all pointless?”
Now, things have changed.
Of course, you could argue that what I do now is largely pointless. I write a blog; I write blogs for other people; I train business owners in how to use social media; I write a weekly column for the local paper that is so inconsequential, they often forget to publish it. But it means more to me than spreadsheets and smart suits. I enjoy writing this blog, preparing posts for it, sharing posts and – most importantly – hearing from people who have been touched or inspired by my writing. I love helping busines owners to “get” social media and improve their online presence. And I even enjoy writing my weekly column for the local paper.
More than that though – and this is what I was discussing with my friend – it’s that feeling. The feeling that I’m in charge of my own destiny, that I’m in control of what I earn, and that nobody is my boss! I love all of my clients, and will bend over backwards to get work done on time for them, but because I want to provide a great service – not because they’re standing there telling me I need to do it or I’ll get a bad PDP score at the end of the year. (not that my manager ever did that to me in any previous job, but… you know what I mean)
I love being self employed. I love the idea that I could wake up tomorrow and think “I’d quite like to start doing this sort of work…” and then just make it happen – as opposed to working for a big company where if you want to change your job role in any way it requires at least seven meetings, and usually someone else leaving the team so that you can take on their role – which you don’t really want to do, but you’re hoping that by taking on their crap too you might get a pay rise or even a promotion at the end of the year.
When I first went self employed, I was running people’s social media accounts for them, and doing a little blogging. Then I decided I wanted to do more blogging, so I went and got more blogging clients. Then I decided I would rather teach people how to run their social media accounts, than do it for them – so I started doing that. At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to bring this blog in as a part of my business and earn income from it, so I did. In a few months I might decided I want to write something else, do somethign else, go in a different direction.
As well as this, there’s the real reason I wanted to be self employed in the first place. S’s nursery is having sports day next week, and I don’t need to beg my boss for the day off to go and watch. She’s been poorly this week and I didn’t need to make that horrible, guilty phone call in the mornings to say I wouldn’t be in (yes, it’s been tough trying to still get my work delivered on time for clients, but I’ve managed). If we want to take a holiday, we can choose when we want to go and are not beholden to the office holiday calendar. And when S starts school next year, I won’t need to send her to holiday clubs or whoever has a spare space on their sofa, just so I can go and do a job I don’t even enjoy. Instead, I can lower my workload, work in the evenings or do the odd morning here and there in between having tons of fun and going on adventures. My plan is that I can build this business and increase my income so that by the time S is in school, I can afford to take school holidays off and still have money to do things.
I have good months and bad months with this work, but I always have the option to get out there and hustle a bit more, find another client, offer to do more for the clients I have. That feeling, that it’s within my control, is not something I’m prepared to compromise.